The recently released audit of progress on implementing the "Dallas Charter" makes clear that the scandal of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church remains a challenge for the institutional Church and individual believers. Though most archdioceses and dioceses received "good reports" the need for the audit and the soon to be completed study by John Jay College point to the depths of the current crisis. While many might wish for a fair closing of the books, the life of the church like the lives of the victims has forever more been changed.
David Gibson, identified by Lawrence Cunningham as a seasoned journalist, writes of the ongoing crisis as a moment of great opportunity. His book without naiveté looks hopefully and expectantly toward a future Catholic Church in America reformed by the fire of the present moment. As a journalist his style allows the reader to move through with considerable ease; a depth of insight expressed in a readable style. Gibson offers reliable research, historical perspective and "balanced reporting." A convert to Catholicism he expresses a love of the Church with a knowledge of the traditions without the absolutism or sentimentality of a neophyte or one who wants to live in the good old days that probably were never so good!
The author correctly perceives that the immediate issue of clergy sexual abuse serves as the most alarming expression of more profoundly needed change. Sexual misconduct has roots in contemporary culture and in the structures of the Church's institutional life. And, he correctly points out that the more scandalous behavior in the eyes of many of the faithful rests in Episcopal secrecy.
While providing an overview of Voice of the Faithful and the earlier movement, Call to Action, Mr. Gibson makes clear that no resolution will be found in a quick left turn to a fully democratic Church; nor will it be found in a "super-pope who would enforce virtue and make all right and holy — in Latin, of course" (343). The balanced approach consistently displayed by the author gives the reader hope that indeed the present moment may be one of opportunity.
Drawing on the work of Father Thomas Reese the author pulls his own text together proposing three levels of reform: structure, policy, and attitudes. Immediately available within the present law of the Church are numerous ways to increase lay participation. As the centralization of power on the universal level makes evident clear problems, even more evident are the problems that grow from sometimes almost exclusive power at diocesan and parish levels. He rightly insists that a priority must be given to financial oversight — the next emerging crisis. Financial transparency is the only means to restore the credibility of the institution.
On the level of policy Gibson rightly insists on the need for dialogue. Issues like the role of the laity in worship, women in the Church, optional celibacy, Sunday worship without priests, and so forth will not be resolved by a mandate. Divisions among the wide spectrum of believers who rightfully see themselves as "good Catholics" necessitates respectful conversation. This flows from and to the third level of reform, a change in attitude — everyone in the Church needs to work toward restoring the heart of the church, communication and communion, among the estates — lay, clerical and hierarchical. While not stated explicitly the thrust of Gibson's work would hold that the bishops do have the opportunity for the boldest and best first step.
A colleague who received the book as a Christmas gift confirmed my enthusiasm for the text. The Coming Catholic Church deserves to be read, and talked about, by everyone who hopefully believes that the Church is in ever need of reform!